From Massachusetts, we rode through some lovely New England towns on our way back into New York state. It seemed each little village was featured up on a hill with a tall church steeple you could see from miles away. The roads were beautifully empty of traffic – it was a bicyclists dream. Except those hills. We had more hills and climbing on this day than most days of the entire trip. Up and down we went with few breaks in between, ascending 780 meters (2560 feet) in only 60 kilometers (37 miles) or so. It was a lot of work with the weight we pull! We made camp at an RV park on top of the last hill of the day, and slept well despite the lumpy, uneven grounds of the tent sites.
We looked at the map the next day and didn’t know what our destination would be, or where we would stay. The city of Troy was about 70km away, and if we made it there, we’d have to make it out to the other side to find camping – and that would make for a bit of a long haul. If we stopped before Troy, we would have to make up the lack of mileage later. Normally, we pretty much know where we will stay each night – and even when we don’t, we have had a lot of success staying in people’s lawns. In built up urban areas, this type of camping is a bit harder to come by than out in the country. We have, however, gotten quite comfortable living within the ‘unknown,’ and in fact, it seems that it is in these situations where something miraculous usually happens, like how we first met up with Hob and Deb back in Virginia.
Around 4:00pm we were quickly approaching the outskirts of Troy when a pick up truck pulled to the side of the road and the driver motioned to us to stop. Dick was a fellow cyclist and he and his wife had a farm eight miles down the road where we were more than welcome to pitch our tent. We couldn’t have been more thrilled at this serendipitous encounter! After a stop at the grocery store for supplies, we navigated to their beautiful farm and the kids spotted a swing set in the yard right away.
While Eden and Harper ran to play immediately, Reuben got a quick tour around with Dick. When they came out of the house moments later, Reuben was beaming. Dick and his wife Sharon were grandparents to children Eden’s age and they had a room set up upstairs with a queen bed, a twin bed and a junior bed – perfect for our family – as well as a giant playroom with numerous toys. They had bigger plans for us than simply providing a safe place to camp in their lawn! The kids quickly fell quiet as they discovered all the new playthings, and Reuben and I helped prepare dinner with Sharon. We combined all our groceries and leftovers and had a wonderful meal to share and amazing conversation about the area, the property they own, their efforts to protect the nearby Rensselaer Plateau, and many stories of their lives with their bicycles and their dear friends. The next morning, Dick made pancakes for all of us complete with maple syrup that was harvested off his land and later took us on a tour of their property – a centuries-old family farm with many stories of its own.
As we passed through Troy that morning, we stopped by Troy Bike Rescue, a bike collective that we had discovered quite by accident. We had briefly been part of a similar bicycle recycling initiative in Hamilton, and we were excited to hear how similar goals were accomplished in Troy. It turns out they were having a huge bike event that day, complete with kids bike rodeo, cargo-bike relay races, helmet decorating, and a big dinner/raffle/live music fundraiser later that evening. We knew right away we would be sticking around for the festivities.
It was amazing to see how TBR is making positive change in their community – empowering youth, women, transgendered, minorities, everyone – to feel welcomed and to learn about and to love bicycles. Eden and Harper had a blast watching tall-bikes, franken-bikes, and kids of all ages cycling around at the rodeo and relay. Eden developed an affinity for an easy to ride, child-sized cargo tricycle and loaded Harper up for trips around the parking lot. She also refreshed her two-wheeled riding skills that she first learned in El Salvador. After decorating their helmets with glitter and pipe cleaners, as well as their bodies with rub on tattoos, we headed over to the main event: dinner.
We had a great time getting to know TBR’s history, checking out the raffle prizes, and chatting with TBR supporters and members. Some days while touring, you make justifications for spending money on frivolous things (usually food related) or perhaps treating yourself to a hotel or activity when the day has been particularly uncomfortable. But what really tugs at our pocketbook is seeing a fantastic cause run by people who are loving and kind, and really want to make a difference in their community. We splurged a bit on dinner, raffle tickets and a cake auction – but have no regrets about contributing to the difference that TBR is making in Troy. We were also grateful to meet Abby and Tolu, who offered to put us up in their home that night. So for the second day in a row, we ended up in the home of generous strangers.
Over breakfast the following morning, we were once again blessed with conversation and insight from our new friends. I feel like the more we meet people on this trip, the less we default to small talk, and the more meaningful our new conversations actually get. Why doesn’t that seem to happen in ‘normal’ life?
We headed out late that morning and soon arrived on the Erie Canal trail which would pretty much take us right to the border of Canada about 300 miles away. It was paved for the first day and a wonderfully fast ride. There is plenty of free camping along the route designated for cyclists, usually near a lock or lift bridge, and we planned to end our day at Lock 9. However, when we arrived we discovered nothing but a washed out gravel area, the result of a flood six years prior that damaged a lot of infrastructure along the canal – and camping was no where to be found. Yet, after a few phone calls, we found a wonderful place to set up our tent between a church and a cemetery a few miles down the road.
On a long bike tour, time passes differently. Dates become less important, and you tend to remember events based on where they happened, not when. However, when we woke up on May 21st, 2012, it was a date with significant meaning. This was the first anniversary of the day we put our dreams to the test and, surrounded by family and friends who cheered us on as we left our driveway, we set out on this adventure in the first place. We rode quietly along the traffic-free canal trail reminiscing about the start of our journey, and put our thoughts down on paper later in the day. But what we really wanted to do was celebrate. Now seasoned tourists, we usually let our stomachs think first and this time was no exception: they were recommending a good dozen donuts to celebrate 12 months on the road. So we hit up Daylight Donuts in Fort Plain where we mentioned our reason for celebration to the manager who met us there. She proceeded to call the mayor and the local paper who all welcomed us to town as we waited out some rain showers and ate our treats. We headed off in the drizzle to a campground at a marina in St. Johnsville where we set up camp and then continued our celebration at a local restaurant.
With the skies still dropping rain the next morning, we ate our standard oatmeal and eggs in a lovely canal-view gazebo at the marina. After things cleared up a bit, we headed to Rome, where the first length of the Erie canal was built in 1817, and where we would meet our Warmshowers hosts for the next two nights. Larry welcomed us into his Bicycle Bed and Breakfast… er, I mean, his house – and we felt at home right away. His wife Patty, whom we met later in the evening, has decorated an entire guestroom for Warmshowers guests and she even set up a room for Eden and Harper complete with toys that her grandchildren play with. Over the next two days we played in parks and libraries and caught up on errands like laundry and bike maintenance. It was relaxing, it was fun – and it really did feel like home – like one of those lazy Saturdays with no agendas where you have a warm and fuzzy feeling of balance between play and accomplishment at the end of the day.
We decided to get off the canal for a few days and explore the wine country in the Finger Lakes region. We looked into finding a host in Geneva, but none were available so we figured we would camp out at a state park. But then one of the out-of-town Warmshowers hosts put us in touch with another out-of-town family who wanted to make room for us. Jackie and her children were away for the Memorial Day weekend, but they wanted us to stay in their home anyway. Actually, let me be more specific – this was the home they had only moved into a few weeks ago – boxes still unpacked, pictures not on the wall, and they let us (people whom they have never met) move in for two days while they were not home. Their kids drew pictures for our kids and wrote notes pleading them to sleep in their bedroom and enjoy their toys! And Jackie drew us a map of the town and all the amenities we may need. How is that for hospitality? This was another one of our experiences during this year that have challenged us with how to be better hosts to people who need a home – and how to be available even when you may not feel like you may be presentable.
We LOVED Geneva and the whole Finger Lakes region – and were pleasantly surprised at its close proximity to Hamilton. It is a great touring destination as the back roads are beautiful and traffic-free. There are plenty of amenities and the area is practically packed with wineries. What more could you ask for? Sounds like a future tour there awaits…
On Memorial Day Monday we left Geneva and headed back to the Erie Canal trail targeting Lock 30 for some more free camping. This was now our home stretch. Geneva was our last rest day and the only thing separating us from home was five days in the saddle.